Gifts From God
December 1, 2003 - Needy boys and girls around the world are excited when they receive gift-filled shoe boxes from Operation Christmas Child. But the greatest thrill comes when they and their families find out about the true meaning of Christmas—God's gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
by Simon Gonzalez
Hertorio Herrera was looking for new ways to reach the Kuna Indians of central Panama with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Kuna live simple lives much the way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. The men use wooden spears to fish and traditional agricultural methods to grow their crops. The women work by hand to make crafts to sell in the market and to produce the bright, colorful cloth "molas" that decorate their blouses.
However, the Kuna also emulate their ancestors in other, less idyllic ways. Their lifestyle includes traditional beliefs at odds with Christianity.
The Christian faith has begun to penetrate the community, but the process has been gradual, said Herrera, a native Kuna and pastor of an evangelical church in the village of Akuayala. "It's very hard because of their tribal background," Herrera said. "There is pressure to keep the old ways."
But Akuayala found hope in something new when an Operation Christmas Child team delivered gift-filled shoe boxes to all of the children in the poor village.
"I saw the delight in receiving the gifts," Herrera said. "It touched everyone. It will help my ministry a lot."
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse that touches millions of lives each year. People throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe pack shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, and other items. Samaritan's Purse collects the gifts and, with the help of local Christians, distributes them to needy boys and girls around the world who receive little or nothing for Christmas.
The shoe-box gifts provide tangible evidence of God's love. They open doors to tell the children and their families about the true meaning of Christmas—the Good News of Jesus Christ.
That's what happened in the little village of Akuayala where the shoe boxes allowed Herrera to tell all of the people about God's greatest Gift.
"It's a biblical practice to share gifts," he said. "The wise men gave gifts. It's a very effective way to evangelize. Jesus is a gift. These are gifts from God."
Herrera invited all of the children and their parents to his church to receive the presents and the Gospel literature. Many came for the first time and heard about the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
"Everybody was happy," Herrera said. "The children enjoyed it. The parents were happy. They understood that it was Jesus who sent these gifts."
Stories like Herrera's are told in countries around the world.
Boys and girls who are the victims of war, natural disaster, poverty, illness or neglect are thrilled when they receive the gifts. For many, it's the first Christmas present they ever have received. But the main goal of the project is reached when children experience the love of Jesus Christ.
"I have never had such wonderful toys," said Volodya, a girl in Kazakhstan. "Thank you very much. Through this gift I have learned more about Jesus Christ and about how He loves me and all people."
The shoe boxes are more than just gifts. They are tools that churches and Christian ministries use to reach their communities with the love of God.
The gifts opened doors for evangelism, said Danilo Borre, a pastor in the Philippines. "Kids have started to attend our weekly meetings," he said. "Praise the Lord for this ministry."
These churches continue to minister to the children through follow-up programs. One such program is done in partnership with The Mailbox Club, a ministry that leads children to Christ and to spiritual maturity through Bible correspondence courses. The Mailbox Club now works with Samaritan's Purse church partners in 35 countries. More than 458,000 boys and girls have enrolled, and nearly 50,000 children have given their lives to Jesus, including a 12-year-old girl in Angola named Edna.
"These lessons are like miracles to me," she said. "I met Jesus through this course, and I want other children to know Jesus, too."
Helping children to know Jesus remains the goal of Operation Christmas Child for 2003. Shoe-box gifts collected this year will go to victims of war in Liberia and Sudan, AIDS orphans in Uganda and Thailand, indigenous people in Panama and Mexico, poor children in Russia and India, and to millions of other boys and girls in desperate circumstances in countries around the world.
Each gift will be an opportunity for children to experience the love of God and to give their hearts to His Son.